International child abduction

What is international child abduction?

Child abduction occurs when a child is removed from the person who has the legal right to custody without that person’s consent or agreement.

International child abduction occurs when a child is:

  • Taken out of the country in which the child and the person who has the legal right to custody normally live (the child is unlawfully removed from a country)
  • Kept in another country where the child is visiting (the child is unlawfully retained in a country)

The abductor may be any person but frequently is one of the child’s parents.

For example, a child who is in the custody of their mother in Ireland is visited in Ireland by their father who lives in Spain. The child is then taken back to Spain by the father without the consent of the mother. The child has been abducted and unlawfully removed from Ireland by their father.

In another example, a child who is in the custody of their father in Ireland may go to visit their mother in the USA. If the mother keeps the child there beyond the agreed visiting time, the child been abducted and is unlawfully retained in the USA by their mother.

So, an abduction may involve the wrongful removal or the wrongful retention of a child.

International child abduction is a criminal offence in Ireland. A parent or anyone else who unlawfully abducts a child may be convicted of the offence.

What should I do if my child is at risk of international abduction?

If you believe your child is at risk of abduction you should get legal advice and contact the Gardaí.

You can apply to the court requesting that it direct who should hold the passports, for example, you, the Gardaí, the courts.

If you are the legal guardian of your child (or have applied to be a guardian) you may contact the Passport Office and request that you be informed if the other parent applies for a passport for your child.

The Irish Centre for Parentally Abducted Children (ICPAC) (this organisation is no longer operating) published an ICPAC Prevention Pack (pdf) which provides information on the steps you should take if your child is at risk of abduction. This includes advice on gathering important information relating to your child, which will be required if your child is abducted, as well as on other steps you can take to reduce the risk.

Treoir also has information on what you can do if you are concerned your child is at risk of child abduction and the contact details of organisations that can help you.

What should I do if my child is internationally abducted?

There is a Central Authority in each country to facilitate the return of abducted children. The Central Authority in Ireland for international child abduction is the Department of Justice (see Further information below).

If your child has been internationally abducted, you should contact the Central Authority in the Department of Justice immediately in order to set in motion the procedures required in the country to which the child has been abducted.

All child abduction cases are treated as a matter of urgency.

The Central Authority assists left behind parents by:

  • Collecting documentation and transmitting the application form to the foreign Central Authority
  • Arranging translations of all documentation, as necessary
  • Monitoring the progress of the application
  • Providing further documentation to the competent authority in the foreign state, as necessary
  • Providing regular updates to the left behind parent
  • Assisting, where appropriate, with an application for legal aid

The Central Authority for international child abduction in Ireland does not charge for its services.

Return of the child

The main concern when international child abduction occurs is the safe return of the child.

The matter of arranging for the return of a child who has been abducted internationally is governed by international law. There are international conventions and an EU Regulation which set out the rules that apply.

The EU Regulation applies to an abduction from one EU member state to another. The international conventions apply to cases to which the EU Regulation does not apply.

They are based on similar principles that:

  • The child should be returned to their habitual residence (where they normally live) as soon as possible
  • The courts of the jurisdiction in which the child is habitually resident (normally lives) are the appropriate courts to decide what is in the best interests of the child

Further information

The European Commission has published a leaflet on Cross-border Parental Abduction and how it can be prevented.

Department of Justice

51 St Stephen's Green
Dublin 2
D02 HK52

Tel: +353 1 4790278

European Parliament Mediator for International Parental Child Abduction

60 Rue Wiertz
B-1047 Brussels

Page edited: 14 May 2021